For as long as humans have been boozing it up, we’ve been searching for a hangover cure. We all want to enjoy a handful of beverages on occasion, but quite frankly the consequences stink.
One of the oldest supposed hangover remedies is what’s called “hair of the dog.” In case you’re unfamiliar, the simple idea is to drink alcohol to ease the pain of a hangover.
Plenty of people swear by this method, but does “hair of the dog” as a hangover cure actually work?
What Does “Hair of the Dog” Mean?
This odd little saying actually goes back at least several hundred years and is a shortening of the phrase “hair of the dog that bit you.”
It refers to the belief that if you were bitten by a rabid dog, you could cure rabies by applying a salve to the wound containing hair from the dog.
Spoiler alert: you can’t cure rabies with dog hair.
The theory was based on the ancient idea that the cause of an ailment can also be its cure, which is still used today in the form of several vaccines containing weakened versions of a particular virus, such as measles.
At some point, the theory was applied to alcohol, and the longstanding tradition of cracking a beer to relieve a hangover began to gain traction.
So is there any truth to this age-old claim? Let’s find out.
How Does “Hair of the Dog” as a Hangover Cure Work?
You can find an in-depth explanation of what causes a hangover here, but here’s the nutshell version:
When you drink, the alcohol is processed in your liver by specific enzymes working with an antioxidant called glutathione. Your liver can process about one drink per hour and as you drink more, your stores of glutathione run out.
If you’re drinking more quickly than your liver is able to do its job, alcohol and a toxic byproduct called acetaldehyde start to build up in your system. This causes the symptoms we recognize as a hangover.
Hangover symptoms begin as your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) decreases, with intensity peaking when your BAC reaches zero.
Drinking more alcohol causes your BAC to go back up, which can provide some relief from the negative effects of the lack of alcohol. Keep in mind that what goes up must come down and your BAC is no exception.
At some point, your BAC will hit zero and you might be even worse off than if you’d skipped the mimosas at brunch in the first place.
Another reason that “hair of the dog” may provide a reprieve from your nasty hangover is that alcohol boosts endorphins. In the same way that drinking gives you a happy, relaxed feeling, the surge of endorphins can mask your hangover symptoms.
But similar to when your BAC returns to zero, the boost of endorphins will also drop when you eventually stop drinking and you’ll be faced with the same unfortunate consequences.
Experts caution against “hair of the dog” as a hangover cure because of the suspicion that this rise and fall of endorphins is partly responsible for issues with alcohol addiction.
The Bottom Line
While “hair of the dog” as a hangover cure may appear to help in the moment, you’re really just delaying the inevitable.
If you don’t want to suffer the consequences of too much drinking, it’s better to plan ahead to avoid the hangover than to try to deal with the symptoms after the fact.
Don’t drink on an empty stomach, drink plenty of water, and help your liver process the alcohol more effectively by increasing the production of glutathione.